Newspaper article International New York Times

True Power Lies in Hands of Military

Newspaper article International New York Times

True Power Lies in Hands of Military

Article excerpt

The fall of Burkina Faso's leader has raised hopes that other African leaders will reconsider their own power grabs, but that outcome is unlikely.

The fall of the Burkina Faso strongman Blaise Compaore on Oct. 31 has raised hopes that other African leaders will reconsider their own power grabs, but there's little to suggest that what happened there will be repeated elsewhere.

There is a long list of African leaders who have not just fiddled with their country's constitutions to prolong their time in office, but have abused their positions to enrich themselves and their entourages and trample on the basic rights of their citizens.

It was those types of abuses that prompted thousands to take to the streets of the Burkina capital, Ouagadougou, two weeks ago, just as they had done in the past. This time, however, Mr. Compaore was forced out.

But Burkina Faso seems unlikely to become a model for the many other African countries where citizens are oppressed by unjust rule, for reasons that the unfolding events in Ouagadougou are making clear.

The army didn't step in when citizens set fire to the Parliament building. It didn't intervene on behalf of the onetime officer who had seized power on its behalf 27 years before. Now, perhaps inevitably, it is the army that is in control in Burkina Faso, and its leaders are already showing a taste for the high life that comes with running an African state.

The principal officer in charge, the American-trained Lt. Col. Isaac Yacouba Zida, has made it clear that he does not want to step down anytime soon. He has little use for the newly censorious African Union, which sanctioned Mr. Compaore's autocratic rule for years. The popular uprising has morphed into a military takeover -- which is what it may have been all along, given the army's failure to stand by Mr. Compaore.

It is a lesson repeated over and over on a continent where institutions are weak and the men with the guns are the ultimate arbiters. It was the military that brokered civilian rule in Guinea and Niger in the past four years. As long as the man at the top is in the military's good graces, he has nothing to fear. …

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